Liberal Party Leader Philippe Couillard warned voters his chief rival wants to expel new arrivals, and he may not have fully renounced his separatist convictions.
As the election campaign entered the last sprint ahead of the Oct. 1 vote, Couillard was ramping up scare tactics Sunday, saying Quebec is an open and tolerant society, and most Quebecers reject proposals by Coalition Avenir Québec to submit new arrivals to language and values tests.
“I don’t want Quebec to be known as the place where we turn people away,” Couillard said while visiting Vaudreuil-Dorion. “Quebec has never been like this. It has always been a welcoming place.”
Couillard also brought up the R word Sunday, warning that CAQ leader François Legault may still harbour ambitions to separate Quebec from Canada.
“The idea of independence has not left his spirit,” he told reporters. “He once said, ‘I don’t talk about it because the numbers aren’t there.’ Does that mean if the numbers change, will he be in favour (of sovereignty) again? You should ask him that question.”
Reacting to the comments on the campaign trail, Legault said Couillard is panicking.
“The only referendum is do we want 19 years of the Liberal Party, we’ve had 15 years, do we want another four years? That is the question we have to ask,” Legault said.
The CAQ is wading into Liberal and PQ strongholds in the final week of the campaign, cancelling plans to campaign in Quebec City in order to visit Abitibi, Chibougamau, Saguenay, and Rimouski. The Liberals plan to visit Laval, Quebec City, Beauce and Rivière-du-Loup regions this week, which are mostly Liberal-held ridings, some of which are being threatened by the CAQ.
Campaigning in Vaudreuil-Dorion Sunday, Couillard could not escape evidence that successive Liberal governments have neglected the western Montreal region that traditionally supports the party.
His morning news conference was metres away from Harwood Blvd., the only five-kilometre stretch of Highway 20 that has traffic lights, and a speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour. A project to turn the urban boulevard into a proper highway with on-ramps and exits has been proposed since the 1950s and promised on an off by Liberal governments over the last 15 years. Couillard once again pledged to bring the project back to the top of the order sheet.
“We still want to do this,” Couillard said. “What happened wasn’t a lack of desire to do this. … Other projects came forward. We will get back to the drawing table immediately after the election, work with election officials here and see how we can make this better, and put it back on the investment (plan) of the government.”
Couillard also faced reporters’ questions about the candidate for Laurier-Dorion, running to replace disgraced MNA Gerry Sklavounos, who was kicked out of the Liberal caucus in 2016 after allegations of sexual assault emerged.
The candidate, George Tsantrizos, was Sklavounos’s political attaché for many years. He has refused most requests for media interviews since the campaign began.
Couillard said it’s better for him, and for democracy, if his candidates communicate as much as possible, but he would not oblige Tsantrizos to grant interviews.
On Saturday, Couillard suspended his campaign, leaving behind his campaign bus and accompanying reporters to visit the tornado-ravaged Gatineau region.